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Think Again: Jon Stewart and Chris Wallace: Network on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

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Fox News is nothing if not impressive. No matter how harsh the criticism it endures, the network somehow always manages to prove itself even worse than we had previously imagined. In the wake of some devastating reporting on the internal operations of the outfit, discussed here, Chris Wallace of "Fox News Sunday" invited comedian/wise man Jon Stewart on the show this past Sunday.

Fox did not have the nerve to allow the interview to run in a coherent fashion. "Fox edited me to seem like a woman having a nervous breakdown," Stewart said on "The Daily Show" Monday night following the broadcast.

To the degree that the show made news, it was in Wallace's admission that Fox does not even try to be "fair," much less balanced. "I believe that we're the counterweight," Wallace explained in a part of the interview that Fox somehow forgot to air. "I think that they have a liberal agenda and I think we're the other side of the story." On Monday's show, Stewart understandably parodied this simplistic manner of viewing reality:

We don't tell both sides of the story, we tell one side ... the other side, the one we perceive is never told. Because as you know, news only comes in two sides. And if the conservative side isn't being told, what's being told must be liberal. Fox News isn't fair and balanced. It's balancing the system, man. Don't you get it? The system's unfair and unbalanced. To balance the system, Fox has to be the purest form of right-wing resin. Because of how heavy left-wing America is. Hollywood, comedians, every single news organization, the Internet, facts, history, science, it's all just left-wing bullshit, man.

But watch the entire interview on the web and you see, again, that the problems with Fox are far more disturbing than even the great--and I say that unironically--Jon Stewart is willing (or able) to consider.

Let's examine the full transcript in detail. Once Wallace manages to drop his strange obsession with getting Stewart to drink out of his Fox News mug--leading Stewart to wonder, naturally, if it was poison--Wallace asks if Stewart wishes to stand by his characterization of Fox as "a biased organization, relentlessly promoting an ideological agenda under the rubric of being a news organization," and a "relentless agenda-driven, 24-hour news opinion propaganda delivery system."

Stewart, of course, does, and Wallace, who is apparently unaware of the way Fox is widely viewed outside the confines of Roger Ailes's kingdom, wonders, "Where do you come up with this stuff?" Unfortunately, Stewart punts here; one of many times he does throughout the interview. Had he come prepared with any one of the thousands of examples of Fox deliberately twisting the news and sometimes even making it up in order to further its political agenda; examples he could have found here, here, here, here, and here.

In that case, Wallace might have had to respond. Instead, he went with the breezy, "It's actually quite easy when you feel it. You got to feel it in your soul, you know?"

Next, Wallace attempted to paint Stewart as a hypocrite because, in his view, the comedian should be "willing to say the same thing about the mainstream media, about ABC, CBS, NBC, Washington Post, New York Times ... that they are, in your words, a propaganda delivery system relentlessly pushing a liberal agenda."

Of course, this is ridiculous and Stewart refuses. He does not go into any detail, for instance, explaining that these same liberal conspiracies cooperated with the Bush administration in pretending that Iraq was manufacturing nuclear weapons or had participated in the 9/11 attacks. Or wonder why The Washington Post consistently published George Will's dishonest climate denialism or Jennifer Rubin's Likudnik propaganda. And what of The New York Times's hiring of William Kristol (having lost Judith Miller)? Is NBC's "Meet the Press" part of a liberal conspiracy when it's most frequently invited guest in 2009 was Newt Gingrich--who held no office but has plenty of crazy, right-wing positions? (How else to explain a grown man who professes to believe that Obama's political views can be understood "only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior"? And what about his insistence that the Obama administration leads a "secular-socialist machine" that represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union?)

Stewart tries to grant Wallace's point with regard to MSNBC, saying, "They've looked at your business model and they have seen the success of it. And I think they're attempting to be a more activist organization." This kind of thing has been Stewart's prime weakness and a common one: the "both sides do it" dodge.

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